Catholic musician Leandra Simon-Richards shared her thoughts with the Catholic News about being Catholic in a primarily non-Catholic Christian contemporary music scene and working passionately towards allowing Catholic contemporary/pop music to have a greater voice.
Richards’ personal mission is rooted in her submission to God, acceptance, reconciliation and healing. “My personal experiences of feeling of unworthy, desiring deliverance from past hurts, overcoming rejection, failure, anxiety and frustrations have all helped my musical inspirations.”
This 33-year-old is also moved by her observations of society’s brokenness, from family life, to corporate and systemic issues of abuse and injustice. Ultimately, her music is an essential part of her mission towards community upliftment with messages of forgiveness, healing and freedom, echoing her hopes and vision for more loving and supportive communities for future generations.
Originally from Cumuto, East Trinidad, Richards grew up a “cradle Catholic” but admits for a very long time throughout her teens and early adulthood she harnessed bitter feelings towards God and the Catholic faith.
This animosity stemmed from being belittled by parish priests, observing a general hostility within the Church’s doors and a misunderstanding God’s teachings.
“Even though I never physically left [the Church] and always considered myself a practising Catholic, in my mind I adjusted what it meant to be Catholic. For instance, I never felt the need to attend confession and believed I could pray directly to God for forgiveness as I had serious issues with priests and other ‘authority’ figures whom I did not believe were trustworthy. Overtime, I kept everything to myself as it seemed to me that those in authority were more concerned with the appearance of perfection, superiority and the upliftment of Eurocentric cultural ideals above all else.”
A huge part of Richards’ music is her love and appreciation for her African heritage. “Growing up under a Caucasian priest, for a while, I felt the Church (or at least those who represented the Church in my circles) upheld systemic injustice towards oppressed groups and I wanted to speak out against that”.
She has a deep appreciation of many different genres which adds to the variety of her sound which has an underlying soulful Afro-Caribbean centrism. Some of her favourite artistes are Eminem, Lauren Hill, Bob Marley, Sizzla, Missy Elliot, Sean Paul, Tanya Stephens, Bunji Garlin and Machel Montano.
“While I researched other religions, including Rastafarianism and have respect for different cultures and experiences, none of them has come close to the fullness of the Catholic Church. It is the only true faith.”
“In retrospect, some of the people I had perceived as the ‘highly judgemental’ who represented the Church were, in a way, my excuse to create my own moral codes to live by. Though in my mind I was always (physically) a part of the Church then, spiritually, I was not.”
Despite her inner conflict, music was always in reach as she journeyed through years of academia, military service, and work experience in a range of fields. Destiny would bring her full circle to her passion for art, culture, music, and a desire would be ignited to pursue this passion as a singer, songwriter and musician.
Her exposure has been limited to her parish Church of the Resurrection, La Horquetta and a few Catholic events to which she has been invited. It is her hope Catholic pop music could be given greater support.
“I have been told, ‘Well just write a song to put it in the Caribbean hymnal’ but that is not my passion.” Richards says she wants to reach Catholics both in the pews and on the fringes through a “structured” Catholic pop-music franchise.
“I have many relatives who are Protestants and they often invite me to sing at their church’s events. These would also include seminars for creatives, particularly musicians who want to make a name for themselves with the church’s full support both tangible and intangible.”
Now a wife and mother of three, Richards tries balancing her vocation as a Catholic musician with her family life and current pursuit of a Master’s degree in tourism. “I do pray for this dream of launching an album to hit-off soon. I also want my children and the younger generation to identify Catholic musicians as easily as they identify a Soca artiste or international singer.”
Richards says she never knows when he will receive inspiration for a song. She smiles. “It is really the Holy Spirit working in my mind!”